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Since the official end of the Cold War, the United States has been the world's sole superpower, leading the world in wealth creation, technology and military might that, at times, seems unassailable.
The technological advantage the United States possesses is felt by its enemies on the battlefield and it is the connected nature of modern life through digitally controlled electrical grids and Internet-based communications networks that allows such incredible progress.
But few realize how vulnerable the country truly is to an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could bring all of this crashing down.
While frightening, it is truly hard to imagine that a simple EM pulse, even one that kills no one in the initial blast, could be far more deadly than a conventional nuclear strike.
Rapid economic collapse, failed transportation systems, mass starvation and the failure of every electronic device within a thousand-mile radius would signal the end of the American era.
Unfortunately, Iran, Russia, China and North Korea are well aware of the destruction an EMP weapon would cause and there is now evidence that each has either an EMP weapon or has drawn up strategic plans to use such a weapon.
The death toll from a major EMP attack over the United States has been estimated as low as 50% and as high as 90% of the population, according to the Washington-based think tank, The Center for Security Policy.
Arizona Representative Trent Franks recently released to the public information on Iranian war doctrine which contains an operation called "Passive Defense" which is anything but passive.
Iranian military planners propose to counter the military might of the US using nuclear EMP weapons, conventional sabotage and cyber-warfare to attack vulnerable electrical infrastructure.
Representative Franks has introduced a bill that would harden the electrical grid to protect the US against what he calls "the most dangerous short-term national security threat we face." Officially, Iranian religious clerics have declared that the use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations is forbidden according to Islam.
Whether anyone believes such self-serving statements, it is interesting to note that these same religious leaders have made a special exception to their fatwa that allows the use of nuclear EMP weapons, since death would come due to starvation rather than directly from the nuclear blast itself.
According to the Washington Times, Iran has already practiced launching EMP capable missiles off freighters and hitting altitudes ideal for maximum EMP effect.
Whereas Iran may not have the EMP capable warheads they need yet, they are far from the only rogue nation developing EMP weapons to counter the United States.
Russia and China both possess nuclear arsenals easily capable of setting the United States back into the dark ages, but so far the threat of retaliation has kept each in check.
A resurgent Russia that continues to encroach on Europe after its invasions of Georgia and Ukraine would stand to gain from such a strike if it could avoid the massive US counter-punch.
South Korea's intelligence agency claims that Kim Jong-Un's brutal regime has recently purchased EMP weapons from Russia and is now in the process of adapting these for use against South Korea and the US.
With a country already on the brink of collapse, how long will it be until Kim decides he has nothing more to lose?
Electromagnetic pulses are categorized as E1, E2 and E3. Solar flares, for which the Earth is overdue, cause E3 pulses which can cripple unshielded electrical grids for years.
The E1 pulse from a nuclear detonation (NEMP) at an altitude of 200 miles and with an effective radius of around 1,000 miles results from gamma rays ionizing the mid-stratosphere.
This causes a cascading resonance with the Earth's own magnetic field that induces a massive voltage surge in electrical circuits on the surface.
Generally, the longer the circuit, the more powerful the voltage, though there is no minimum safe circuit length. Some cars, most computers and anything connected to the grid would be destroyed as well as the transformers in the grid themselves.
Far worse than simply living in the 1800s, modern cities are fed by long supply chains and mechanized agriculture that would collapse.
Electronic banking and payment would cease and millions would revert back to a barter and trade economy as forms of payment.
So what can be done? The Edison Electrical Group cost estimates range from as little as two hundred million to as much as twenty billion dollars to harden the US electrical grid from attack through installation of specialized transformers.
So far, the Obama Administration hasn't seen fit to protect the nation against such threats and, in response to a few lawmakers, such as Representative Franks, some states have begun to explore the possibility of taking steps of their own.
After trillions in deficit spending and $800 million in stimulus spending in the last decade, the cost of preparation doesn't seem high considering the consequences.